Syrian regime 'preparing new military operation' in restive Daraa province: reports

Syrian regime 'preparing new military operation' in restive Daraa province: reports
3 min read
30 April, 2023
The Syrian regime has deployed troops and raided refugee camps in Daraa province in what appears to be a preparation for a new military operation, amid a continuing presence of former rebels.
Daraa has witnessed a spate of attacks and kidnappings since reverting to regime rule in 2018 [Getty/archive]

Syrian regime forces carried out raids earlier this week in southern Syria in what seems to be part of preparations for an expected military operation in the region.

Earlier this week, regime forces cordoned off an area where displaced Syrian live between the villages of Nahtah and Samma al-Hneidat in the Daraa province, preventing anyone from entering or exiting, the Free Houran Gathering group, which documents news in southern Syria, reported.

They reportedly beat civilians and stole their property, including motorcycles, livestock, electric tools and other things, as well as detaining a number of them.

In Daraa’s western countryside, regime forces were deployed on the road between the towns of Al-Yadudah and Tafas.

The Syrian regime says that it is trying to prevent drug crime in the area.

Quoting a security source, the Suwayda 24 news website said the aim of these raids was to clamp down on people involved in drug gangs and linked to the Islamic State (IS) group, but other analysts have said the regime was only using this as an excuse to arrest opposition figures and clamp down on former rebels, who still possess weapons.

The Syrian news site said that there were already preparations for a military operation aimed at setting up new checkpoints and searching for wanted persons and weapons in the areas of Daraa al-Balad and the Daraa camp, as well as in towns and villages in the west and the north of the province. 

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There has been a spate of attacks on the regime forces in Daraa since the former opposition stronghold fell to the regime in 2018.

Former rebels who reconciled with the regime, and fighters and activists who did not, have also been frequent targets of assassinations.

IS remnants, who some activists accuse of colluding with the regime, have been blamed for a string of attacks in Daraa.

The province has been awash with kidnappings and lawlessness with a sharp increase in Captagon production and smuggling in recent years. 

Ayman Abu Mahmoud, an activist with the Free Houran Gathering, Ayman Abu Mahmoud, told The New Arab’s sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the regime was only using the narcotics issue as an excuse.

Abu Mahmoud said that following the recent rapprochement between the Syrian regime and Saudi Arabia, and after several warnings from Arab states to Damascus to stop the cross-border smuggle of Captagon, the regime wants to show that it is pursuing drug traffickers and alleged IS members in Daraa.

He said the residents of the raided camps have been living in Daraa since 2013 and were displaced from other parts of the country by the regime.

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Syrian journalist Mouayed Al-Zohbi, who comes from Daraa but lives outside Syria, said the regime was trying to scare Daraa's residents into accepting new deals to settle their status and gain greater control of the area.

In comments made to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, Al-Zohbi said that it was relatively easy for regime troops to maneuver in southern Syria, in contrast to northwestern Syria which is controlled in large part by HTS or Turkey-allied rebel groups, or northeastern Syria, which is under the sway of Kurdish-led US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

He added that the regime was not concerned with combating drug crime in the region as the regime itself was involved in the trade. 

War-torn Syria has become a global production and trading hub for narcotics, particularly the dangerous and highly addictive amphetamine pill Captagon, much of which is trafficked to other countries through neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan.

Sanctions have been imposed on Bashar al-Assad, his relatives and government for their involvement in the Captagon trade, which has helped fund his regime.